Mexico: Travel Logistics and Accommodations

In late June/early July, Andy and I spent about 10 days in Mexico, divided between Mexico City (DF) and Oaxaca City. I am writing about the highlights of our trip in four parts: the food, major historic sights and museums, public life and neighborhoods, and this last post, travel logistics/accommodations.

To wrap up my series of posts about our trip to Mexico in July, I’m going to write about about some of the logistics: pre-trip planning, where we stayed, how we got around, and how we communicated.

Travel Books and Websites

Time Out Mexico City (and the Best of Mexico): Time Out city guides never steer us wrong. This one was great for pointing out new restaurants, hip bars, trendy boutiques, and great neighborhood walking tours. The only negative for Time Out guides are that their maps are consistently awful.

Wallpaper* City Guide Mexico City 2012: The guide for the design snob. This offers a carefully curated selection of restaurants, hotels, museums, and shops, seemingly aimed at jet setters in town for a weekend with money to spend. This was a useful supplement for restaurants and off-the-beaten track sites, but couldn’t serve as your only guide.

Viva Oaxaca: Written by American expats living in Oaxaca, this had plenty of detail about restaurants, shops, neighborhoods, sites, and trips out of town. Very useful, although at times it seemed geared to the long-term visitor/expat.

Moon Oaxaca: A handy catch-all guide with all the standard listings and useful for information about getting around and getting outside of town for day trips.

As useful as all four of these guidebooks were, we also did a ton of research ahead of time online. Andy scoured the Chowhound boards for tips on the best street food in both cities. We also checked out the Lonely Planet Thorntree and Trip Advisor forums for handy information about itineraries and getting around, used the New York Times travel section extensively, and stalked random blogs and other travelers’ trip reports.

Accommodations

We stayed at bed and breakfasts in both cities, and the reviews posted to the Trip Advisor site were especially helpful in choosing where to stay.

In Mexico City, we stayed at The Red Tree House, in the upscale residential Condesa neighborhood. I would recommend this to anyone. It’s run by a middle-aged couple, half American and half Mexican, and the owners and staff were friendly, offered recommendations on things to do, and spoke fluent English.

The house itself is amazing; there is the main house, an open back patio/courtyard with a huge tree growing the middle, and a second building with more rooms. You really do feel like you’re in a tree house.

The owners did much of the renovation work themselves, and the attention to detail was impeccable. The courtyard is leafy, with fountains and several tables, and was a pleasant place to have breakfast in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening.

The breakfast each morning was plentiful and very tasty (see more about the food here). The location was also ideal; Condesa became my favorite neighborhood in DF, with its neighborhood shops and restaurants and leafy parks and pathways, and we were only about a 5-minute walk from the metro. The Red Tree House is popular, so book well in advance!

In Oaxaca, we stayed at Oaxaca Ollin. This B&B is also run by a Mexican-American couple. They were very friendly and were really easy to communicate with ahead of time via email. Upon arrival in Oaxaca early in the morning (8 or 9am), they had us sit down and enjoy breakfast with them right away, which wasn’t necessary but so nice. The B&B is a large house with a courtyard and a second building with additional rooms beyond. There is a spacious kitchen and dining room where guests gathered each morning for breakfast, overlooking the courtyard which includes a small swimming pool. Just like at the Red Tree House, the breakfast here each day was plentiful and incredibly tasty, with a different Oaxacan specialty plus yogurt, fruit, and pastries. Oaxaca Ollin was in a convenient location, just north of the center of town but not a far walk at all. I didn’t get many pictures here (the one below is from our balcony looking across to the pool), but their website gives you the idea.

Transportation

We took a cab from the Mexico City airport to our B&B the first day; be sure to buy a ticket from the marked taxi stand at the airport before getting in the cab. It worked out fine and wasn’t too costly. Once we were in Mexico City, we relied almost exclusively on the metro to get around (I think we used the bus rapid transit once). The metro was cheap, fast, and convenient, with trains coming every few minutes (much more frequently than the DC metro). It was highly utilized but except for one night after a heavy rainstorm, it was never overcrowded. We didn’t take cabs because you need to find a marked taxi stand since it’s not safe to just hail one on the street, and we didn’t see many taxi stands. Make no mistake about it, Mexico City involves a LOT of walking. No matter how much we relied on metro, I felt like we still ended up walking at least 8 or 9 miles a day.

The metros were completely packed the night of a rainstorm.

We took a low-cost short flight to Oaxaca, where we boarded a shared shuttle van into Oaxaca City. This was easy enough to figure out at the tiny Oaxaca airport when we arrived, and was cheaper than a cab. Once in Oaxaca, we walked everywhere; nothing is ever more than about a 20-minute walk, except for our one cab ride up to the village north of the city. We used a tour bus company to go to Monte Alban, which seemed to be the cheapest, most direct route. The buses come and go hourly, so that was easy enough to arrange.

Language

Neither of us is anywhere near fluent in Spanish, but we muddled along. Andy took Spanish in school and is better than I am, so he handled most of our transactions. Andy and I have both used (but not completed) Rosetta Stone so I could say and understand basic phrases, but there was still a lot of guesswork involved. Almost no one, besides our B&B owners in both cities, spoke any English; a few waiters here and there could say a few words and phrases. Overall though, I felt like we managed to do everything we wanted and not speaking the language didn’t present a major barrier. The one main drawback is that it’s nearly impossible to get to know any locals.

That’s it for my posts about Mexico (about time!). It really was a fantastic trip and I’ve enjoyed being able to sort my photos and relive the trip in this little series. Any questions, ask away!

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